Veritas reboots from backup icon to enterprise data platform

Kurt Marko Profile picture for user kmarko September 21, 2016
Summary:
Newly independent Veritas reboots itself as an enterprise data platform - but Kurt Marko wonders if IT buyers will stay loyal to the archive and backup icon

Veritas Vision stage with empty chair - by Kurt Marko
As a newly independent company, finally sold off last month after a decade of unfulfilled promises at Symantec, Veritas has regained the focus and aggression of a hungry startup. That moxie and ambition were on full display last week at the company's first user conference in 11 years, Veritas Vision – where company execs repeatedly took shots at competitors that included a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. CEO Bill Coleman, who was appointed by its private equity buyers to run the company, and his colleagues used the occasion to outline an ambitious strategy that pushes Veritas out of its niche in backup software with a focus on data management and visualization for cloud infrastructure.

Veritas sees itself at the center of a data-centric IT in which hardware, virtualization platforms and even infrastructure location are interchangeable cogs orbiting the body of rapidly-growing business data that provides organizations with cultural identity, customer relationships and ultimately, competitive advantage. It's a tall order and the company did its best to convince the assembled customers, business partners, analysts and press that a relatively small company that, while part of Symantec, last reported about $2.5 billion in revenue can displace behemoths like Amazon, Dell-EMC (with VMware), Microsoft and Oracle as the core around which enterprise IT strategies and architectures are built.

While Veritas successfully articulated its vision, it’s far too early to assess how well it does in executing it and whether it can convince customers to come along.

Trading vendor handcuffs

Veritas is positioning itself as the enabler of IT organizations seeking to free themselves from dependence on proprietary platforms – its own not included – and increasingly willing to use commodity, white box hardware with open source software like MySQL, OpenStack and Docker along with public cloud services. It's not surprising that a company built and defined by backup software would craft an enterprise IT strategy centered on data repositories, archives and associated data services, but the looming question is whether organizations will want to trade one set of vendor handcuffs for another?

Sure, in the Veritas world you're no longer dependent on expensive EMC storage arrays, Microsoft or VMware virtualization platforms or gold-plated Dell or HP server hardware, but you're just as locked into equally-proprietary data backup and management software. Veritas is betting that as data production continues to explode, organizations will make the tradeoff once they understand the value of data-driven business insights and see Veritas software as the raw material providing a competitive advantage. In essences, Veritas believes organizations should take an information-centric, not application-first approach to IT architecture.

Transforming data into an information asset

Veritas' argument rests on a belief that data is an organization's most important asset. Of course, this oversimplifies the complexity and variety of modern organizations in which some are built on scale, others on relationships or networks and still others on key pieces of intellectual property. However, there's no denying that in the age of digital business, information retention and processing is central to all enterprises in the same way that a person without memories or rationality is not whole.

In the Veritas world, data gravity is provided by archives, namely those created and managed by its Netbackup software. The company plays to its strength here, since it proudly reminds everyone that Veritas software is used by 86% of the world's largest organizations. Still, data without intelligence, which includes the ability to find, move, secure, prune, filter, repurpose and visualize, is just digital noise, and that's where the new, expansive part of the Veritas strategy comes in.

Netbackup was the legacy that brought most of the customers and partners to last week's event, however Veritas execs and invited keynoters spent most of their time talking about how to manage and use the data Netbackup accumulates. To this end, Veritas is echoing other storage vendors by developing software abstractions, APIs and application integrations to things like OpenStack and the major public cloud to create a software-defined storage (or information) fabric. Atop this data backbone, Veritas is building software for the entire data lifecycle, including:

  • Data management in both private and public clouds using Netbackup and Velocity (its new copy data management software)
  • Storage on any hardware platform via its Access NAS software, SDS and distributed file system
  • Availability and replication (InfoScale Enterprise)
  • Cloud and container storage via the new HyperScale for OpenStack and InfoScale Storage
  • Data interpretation and visualizations (Data Insight, Information Map)

Indicative of how important Veritas sees data insight, understanding and usage is the fact that all of the guest keynoters, which included political polling guru Nate Silver, the pioneer sports data visualization Kirk Goldsberry and infonomics expert Doug Laney, focused on the value, usage and interpretation of data. Indeed, Veritas itself spent more time showing off new data mapping and visualization features than on the nuts and bolts of data backup, archiving and replication.

My take

Veritas used its coming-out party to make a bold statement that it's no longer the sleepy software supplier to lonely IT admins running tape drives and guarding backup vaults. Like Archimedes, Veritas seeks to construct enough software to lever its backup core into a force capable of moving entire enterprise IT architectures around a fulcrum of data. If it sounds audacious, it is – particularly coming from a company that's been off most people's radar for a decade. However, Veritas isn't delusional enough to go it alone and is wisely tapping into an IT zeitgeist that is moving away from closed, vertically integrated suppliers towards open source software, commodity hardware and multiple public cloud services. Indeed, Veritas highlighted several valuable collaborators including AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, Docker, the OpenStack Foundation and Red Hat.

Basing its strategy on extracting business value from data, Veritas is wise on several fronts. First, given its core IP in backup and data management, the strategy plays to its strength. More importantly however, there is growing consensus among business execs and technology analysts that extracting intelligence and making data-driven decisions will be of sustainable, competitive value to those organizations that do it well. For example, a recent study sponsored by Microsoft found that,

Companies who use data effectively follow a different trajectory for profits, with gross margins that are 18 percentage points higher and operating margins that are 4 percentage points higher. These differences translate into margins that are an average of $100 million higher, a consistent gap that holds across industry and company size.

...

The results show a startling difference in company performance — a large and potentially widening gap between leaders and laggards across nearly every metric. It’s indicative of a new economic divide with potential to mark a significant milestone in the evolution of business. Companies not embracing their own digital transformation could find themselves woefully behind the competition, and in some industries older business models could be phased out entirely.

Veritas seeks to exploit the shift in IT priorities and spending as companies understand the business value of data. Of course, as the Microsoft study indicates, Veritas doesn't enjoy a first-mover advantage since Microsoft and other major software companies are targeting the same trend. Veritas has the right idea, but as Edison wisely quipped, "ideas without execution are hallucinations." Thus, for next year, Veritas would be wise to rename its conference not simply Vision but Executing on the Vision 2017.

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